I had the opportunity to finally see the latest Star Wars movie last week, and I have to admit, my feelings about it are mixed. As a movie, I saw many flaws: the editing was bad, the settings weren’t adequately established, the protagonist was . . . well, undefined. Was this Rey’s story, or Po’s or Finn’s, or Ben’s? To be fair, even though much of the movie felt like a remake of the original three, there were still some plot twists that had me guessing.
Apart from the actual movie production, however, I had a much stronger negative reaction to what the movie was saying: there is a Jedi religion; the force does not belong to the Jedi but to all people because it is within; and even if the opposition wins out for now, the next generation, the children, will take up the fight and strive against the dark side.
It’s a very eastern mystic message intertwined with humanism. And it was on display in a more open way than in any of the previous movies, at least as far as I cam recall. I do have to confess that my memory is not the best when it comes to specifics about old movies, but in this latest iteration of Star Wars, I didn’t think anyone would have to struggle to see the religious elements.
Christian fiction stands in contrast to this open discussion about religion. Yes, in contrast. Despite what some say, who apparently haven’t read much Christian fiction of late, the prevailing philosophy among Christian writers and editors is that Christian fiction should not preach! Which is interpreted to mean, Christian fiction should not present Christ in an overt way.
Consequently, any number of writers will say it doesn’t matter what a Christian writes, or that “being edgy” is better than “being clean.” The idea seems to be that I, being a Christian, will quite naturally write from a Christian worldview.
But is that true?
I don’t think so. I know that the articles I wrote for a local Los Angeles area newspaper ten years ago, had a particular purpose that didn’t allow me to weave in my Christian worldview. I think fiction is no different. If the aims of a story do not lend themselves to weaving the gospel into the plot or characters or theme, then there is no “Christian worldview.”
An author has to purposefully do the worldview weaving if the story is actually to contain a Christian purpose. That being said, I believe not every story written by a Christian needs to contain the gospel message, overtly or in more subtle ways.
As an example I look to the Bible. Some chapters in Scripture, and even some books, seem to do something other than present the gospel. Or do they?
I think of the book of Ruth, for example, that paints a picture of a kinsman redeemer. I think of Esther which shows God’s rescue of His people, and I think, aren’t those stories about Christ without naming the name of Christ? Clearly Jesus was stamped on the Old Testament long before He came in the flesh, so much so that He could take His followers aside after His resurrection and explain the Scriptures and how they pointed to Him.
But in his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul draws a distinction between “planting” and “watering” and “causing growth.” (See 1 Cor. 3:6-7). In other words, some messengers of the gospel are not reaping the harvest. They are busying plowing and planting.
So what does plowing and planting look like for the writer? I don’t know that there is a definitive answer, but it will look different from an explicit story designed to move a reader to repentance.
That being said, I don’t think all stories should be about plowing and planting. We need some stories that water, some that show the increase, and some that center on the harvest. Above all, I think writers should stop pointing fingers at what this Christian or that has written, what this story or that accomplishes.
For one thing, I think a lot of the supposition about Christian fiction is simply wrong. Good writing doesn’t lend itself to preaching. It involves weaving the truth skillfully into the story proper without bringing the action to a halt to deliver a message that readers can’t miss. The better a writer becomes, the more skilled he or she will be in this aspect of storytelling.
And make no mistake. The longer Christian fiction is in existence, the more skilled authors become. Once there seemed to be a gulf between the best Christian fiction and the best general market fiction. Largely Christian fiction earned acceptance by Christians because of its reputation as clean and “safe.” Maybe also because the message agreed with what the reader already believed.
Is that still the case today? Yes, and no.
I think of speculative stories like Mary Weber’s Storm Siren Trilogy or Jill Williamson’s Safe Lands Trilogy or Patrick Carr’s Dark Water Saga which are not anything like the stories by Donita Paul or Karen Hancock or Bryan Davis, some of the earliest Christian speculative fiction writers.
Are these later books better? In some ways, perhaps, but not because they “don’t preach.” They don’t, but the “better” part is more in the development of the style of writing that is popular today, not in what the books have to say. Do they deal with the gritty side of life? Yes. Do they deal with grief and death and loss and anger and sin? Yes. But those other authors dealt with those same things.
In short, I think Christian speculative fiction has always been a step ahead of other genres of Christian fiction, and I think the current titles, which are being published by publishing houses with Christian imprints, have continued to grow and to accomplish planting and watering. Now is not the time to back off and be less “Christian” in our fiction while the general market is pulling the curtain down and being more idolatrous or more godless. Rather, I think it’s time for Christians to be more skilled.